The Debate Over How Far a Top Tier Law School Gets You

You may get in the door then the rest is up to you

University of Louisville School of Law
Ken Lund / Flickr

If you are considering a law school, then you most probably have seen or heard of the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings. You may have even studied up on the methodology for determining who ranks where. But how much do these law school rankings really matter?

The answer is both, "very little," and "a lot." Yes, both.

The main reason attending one of these top-ranked law school matters is if you have one of these schools on your resume, it does make it easier for you to get your foot in the door for an interview.

But, if your drive, motivation and charisma are lacking, then it may not matter at all what school you went to. 

Finding a Job

The legal job market is tough. Law graduates need to harness every edge they can before heading out into the job market. One of the best ways to make employers look at you is by earning a law degree from a highly-ranked law school.

It has always been the case that graduates from top law schools, especially the top 14, can have the most doors opened to them right out of law school. For instance, large firm positions and prestigious judicial clerkships have always disproportionately gone to graduates of institutions high in the law school rankings. This lopsidedness is even more apparent now that there are fewer jobs available.

You can still get one of those large firm positions or clerkships if you go to a lower ranked school, but the reality is that you will have to work very hard to get your foot in the door.

For this reason, try to attend the highest ranked school possible where you will have the best chance of exceeding academically.

Moving Up the Ladder

Once you do have your foot in the proverbial door of your legal career, it is up to you to make the most of the opportunity. You will begin making a name for yourself in the workforce, as time goes on, your law school alma mater will become less and less important.

It will be your reputation as a lawyer that will matter the most.

Other Considerations

There are many other factors to consider when thinking about where you want to go, including scholarship offerings and financial funding, where do you want to practice law, the reputation of lesser-ranked schools in the area you want to practice, the school's bar passage rate and the quality of the faculty. So while ranking is very important, it should not be your only consideration.

Many students go to lower ranked law schools with the idea that they will be in the top 10 or 20 percent of the class. There are two important flaws in this logic. Firstly, not everyone can be in the top 10 or 20 percent of the class. It is not as easy as it seems. And, secondly, the jobs are not plentiful, not even for those who graduate in the top 10 or 20 percent at schools ranked in the third and fourth tiers.

Paying for Law School

It is a well-known fact that the schools at the top of the rankings tend to be very expensive to attend. Frankly, so are a lot of other schools that are not as well-respected nationally or even regionally. Look long and hard at your decision to go to law school, including your primary motivation.

Determine whether it is fair to expect that you will secure a job that would allow you to pay back your law school loans in a reasonable amount of time.

A school that is low in the law school rankings may not have enough to offer you in the long run. Take that into consideration when you are deciding where to attend, and if it still remains a prudent choice for you.

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Your Citation
Fabio, Michelle. "The Debate Over How Far a Top Tier Law School Gets You." ThoughtCo, May. 24, 2017, Fabio, Michelle. (2017, May 24). The Debate Over How Far a Top Tier Law School Gets You. Retrieved from Fabio, Michelle. "The Debate Over How Far a Top Tier Law School Gets You." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 17, 2018).